From the roots: How UBAU is changing the landscape of Indian basketball
“The facilities provided here are very good. Never have we played under such setup, in front of the cameras. I have 10-12 boys in my team and everyone wants to go out there and perform, give their best,” said Gurudutt Nayak, the coach of University of Mumbai Basketball Team, who were crowned champions of the UBAU All-India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Championship.
In a country where sports other than cricket find it extremely difficult to prosper, this tournament has come as a blessing for the sport of basketball. A unique tournament where youngsters are exposed to the glitz and glamour of basketball – playing in lights with constant attention of the media, the future of the sport got a taste of what it would be like when they turn professional.
Just two years back, in 2014, in the FIBA Asia Cup, India pulled off their biggest win by defeating China 65-58 in their home court. Our national team is at a low 53rd position in the FIBA World rankings, but if the true potential of our players is unleashed, as exemplified in the match vs China, India can have a major say in the basketball world.
However, for that to happen, just like any game, it is very crucial to properly develop talent at the grassroots level. And that is exactly what this UBA-U organized tournament is aiming to do by giving the youth the perfect opportunity to shine.
In sport, the university level is extremely pivotal as it is at this stage that players are identified, who can take the game up at a professional level. It is no secret how crucial collegiate basketball is in the fabric of American basketball and their national team. If the Imagine what would happen if India had the facilities that countries like USA, Argentina, Spain and the likes have.
The game changer
Association of Indian Universities (AIU) has been one body that has been engaged in activities related to the promotion of education, culture, sports and allied areas. And they were responsible for organizing the all India level basketball tournament every year, just like any other university level tournament. But, the lack of professionalism in the set-up hurt the development of basketball in India.
Things, however, changed for the better last year, when the rights of hosting the inter-university basketball tournament were acquired by the Universal Basketball Alliance (UBA) group. They acquired the broadcast, merchandise and sponsorship rights to the existing, and self-governing Indian University Basketball Program and this has proved to be the game-changer for the tournament.
Sathyabama University, Chennai hosted the inaugural edition of the UBA All India Inter University Championships, which was televised for the first time ever with celebrities like Abhishek Bachchan attending the glittering affair. It was an unusual affair as we don’t see so much glamour attached to a university level tournament in India, which is not basketball. One of the major complaints of basketball fans in India has been the lack of documentation of the game and this pothole is what the UBAU has managed to fill with this unique tournament.
After the huge success of the first edition, the UBA split after the Satyabama edition and under the leadership of Sunday Zeller and Richard Whelan, the UBA-U group was formed. The UBA group now takes care of the professional basketball league while this newly formed group has the rights of organizing the inter-university basketball tournament.
Lights, camera, play ball!
This year, the inaugural UBA-U All-India Inter-Zonal University Basketball Tournament was organized at the University of Mumbai, Kalina campus on 27th and 28th February. A grand total of 215 teams participated in this tournament which culminated in Mumbai with the top 16 teams qualifying for the final round. Hosts, University of Mumbai emerged as the eventual champions after beating Chennai’s Anna University 64-61 in a nail biting final.
The teams played in a completely professional set up, very similar to what is being done in the United States with colourful jerseys and glittering lights. There were electronic scorecards that flashed game statistics as well as instant replays. Anchors interviewed players in the dugout as the entire tournament was live streamed while a television network in the US telecasted the matches.
In short, the participating teams had no short of experience in terms of how is it to be in a professional basketball league, something that they could have only dreamt of few years back. And this is what UBAU has been all about.
“When you put the players under the lens and when they know that they are being watched, their zeal to play increases; their hunger for performance increases,” coach Gurudutt Nayak shared his wisdom. He was certainly very happy with the new set of the league and the fact that his team won a University-level tournament after 25 years was the icing on the cake for him.
Want to replicate the American model in India: Sunday Zeller
UBAU Co-founder Sunday Zeller spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda after the final where she revealed that they intend to ape the successful American model to promote the sport of basketball in India.
“When we first came to India, we saw some kids playing with a ball and they were really good. And that is when we decided to start something for their benefit,” said Zeller. “Back in the States, we have these University basketball leagues which provided students with facilities and exposure similar to professional leagues. We wanted to replicate the same in India, invest in the production of the leagues and provide the young players with the best of opportunities.”
“India is a big market and this is just the starting. We have sensed the potential and hence started with this initiative,” Zeller continued.
The tournament was a grand success despite the lack of preparation time, something Zeller admits hampered the event a little. However, the UBAU All-India Inter-Zonal Tournament is here to stay and will have a major say in changing the landscape of Indian basketball. With such initiatives in place, it shouldn’t be long before India is rubbing shoulders with the very best in the sport.